DETROIT – Joe Thornton was at his best, poking the puck into the net and creating chances for a teammate.
Thornton scored his 300th NHL goal and assisted on both by Devin Setoguchi as the San Jose Sharks held on to beat the Detroit Red Wings 4-3 on Tuesday night.
“Jumbo really came to play,” San Jose coach Todd McLellan said.
The Red Wings started strong and ended with a flurry of shots, but Antti Niemi denied them early and late with a 35-save performance to help the surging Sharks win their fourth straight and 13th in 16 games.
“Our playoffs started 15 games ago,” Thornton said.
The Central Division-leading Red Wings, who had won a season-high five straight, are trying to catch Vancouver for the top spot in the Western Conference and hold off teams such as San Jose for playoff positioning.
“We’re not going to win every one, so this is nothing to get down about,” said Jimmy Howard, who stopped 39 shots.
Henrik Zetterberg scored a power-play goal with 1:51 left to pull the Red Wings to within a goal. But they couldn’t beat Niemi again to force overtime.
“They made the plays in the end, give them credit,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said.
Ryane Clowe scored midway through the game on a breakaway he created by blocking a shot.
Detroit’s Danny Cleary scored game-tying goals early in the second and 14:42 of the period.
The Red Wings got off to a great start, outshooting the Sharks 9-1 midway through the first and killing their 5-on-3 power play.
“If you’re able to stop those, then it’s easier the rest of the game,” Niemi said.
Thornton scored the game’s first goal on a power play with 18 seconds left in the period, becoming the 18th active player with 300 goals.
“It’s nice,” he said. “I didn’t know until Patty (Marleau) told me.”
The six-foot-four, 230-pound Thornton joined Mark Recchi, Mike Modano and Teemu Selanne as the only active players with at least 300 goals and 680-plus assists.
“He’s very good with the puck and he uses his size to his advantage,” Detroit defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom said. “He’s hard to defend with or without the puck.”
Cleary tied the game at 7:06 of the second and again 34 seconds after Clowe’s goal late in the second. That gave him a career-high 21 goals.
Setoguchi put the Sharks ahead for good with 1:17 left in the second and made it a two-goal lead at 13:12 of the third.
The Sharks needed that cushion.
Niemi made several tough saves in the final period—including some against streaking Pavel Datsyuk—to make it difficult for the Red Wings to come back, but Zetterberg took advantage of Dany Heatley getting called for interference late in the game.
In the final minute, Niemi made key saves on shots by Lidstrom and Johan Franzen to deny Detroit a comeback.
“Nemo, that’s just another night for him,” McLellan said. “The save at the end against Franzen was a big one.”
NOTES—Red Wings F Patrick Eaves left in the second, appearing to hurt his right knee when he led with it on a check against Torrey Mitchell. Babcock wasn’t able to update his status after the game. … Thornton snapped a nine-game skid without a goal. … Detroit G Chris Osgood (hernia surgery) said he’s feeling “much better” after several practices and might be able to play March 11 at home against Edmonton or the next day at St. Louis. … San Jose’s Logan Couture needed stitches after his chin was cut by Detroit’s Jonathan Ericsson, who was called for high-sticking. McLellan said the rookie was cut again a couple of minutes later when Lidstrom was called for high-sticking. … The Red Wings hope Modano (wrist) and Valtteri Filppula (left knee) will be able to return soon.